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Indoor volleyball: 85mm F1.8 or F1.4

Minh Vuong , Nov 16, 2012; 08:34 a.m.

Hi everyone - my first post at this forum.
I just purchased the Nikon D600 and my interest are primary sports (my daughter's HS indoor volleyball) and portraits.
I have this lens:
Sigma 85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM (just purchased yesterday and haven't shot any volleyball shots yet)
(Also considering getting the Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 APO EX SDM OS FLD for outdoor soccer and possibly indoor volleyball)
My question today is specific to indoor volleyball in typical dimly lit volleyball gyms:
Will I get better results with my Sigma 85mm F1.4 compared to a 85mm F1.8 (let's say the Nikon 85mm F1.8G AF-S)?
I understand that F1.4 will get me about 2/3 stop more light compared to F1.8. However, what if I am shooting both lenses at F1.8 or F2.0, do I still get better results with the Sigma F1.4 lens?
The challenge that I have seen even at F1.8 is that it's so hard to focus due to the shallow DoF. If it's so hard to get a sharp picture at F1.8, what's my chance of getting decent shots at F1.4? I might end up shooting at F2 and above anyway so should I just get the cheaper Nikon 85mm F1.8?


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David Haas , Nov 16, 2012; 10:40 a.m.

I can't comment on the quality of the Sigma 1.4 since I haven't used it, but typically lenses are at their sharpest 2 - 3 stops down. Even though the 1.4 or 1.8 does provide very shallow dof (desireable for both sports and portraits), the lenses are actually sharpest at 2.0 or 2.8...

I have the Nikon 85 f1.8 - the older version (not the newest G) and can state that is an excellent performer in low light and portraits. Plus it is light enough to carry all day.

The Sigma 70-200 f2.8 is a good lens, but it is bigger and heavier - plus for volleyball you really won't be using the long end much. And for soccer - depending upon the field size - you may find it too short. My daughter is 9 and plays on smaller fields than standard, for I think 3 more years, then will move up to the larger "regulation" fields. Typically when I shoot soccer on reg fields I go with the Sigma 150-500.


Minh Vuong , Nov 16, 2012; 11:07 a.m.

Thanks David.
I can appreciate that these lenses are sharper a couple stops down. My question is let's say we shoot f1.4 and f1.8 lenses at f2.0, should I expect to get a better picture with the f1.4 lens? In other words, if I don't plan to shoot at f1.4 anyway, should I still spend considerably more money for the f.14 lens?

Randall McAdory , Nov 16, 2012; 11:33 a.m.

I shoot lots of high school volleyball in dimly lit gyms. I normally use a fast-focussing 70-200mm f/2.8 lens mated to a Nikon D700 or D800. With this setup I'm able to capture very good volleyball images at f/2.8, 1/800 or so shutter speed and up to 6400 ISO. I own a 85mm f/1.8 lens, but would never use it over the 70-200 lens. The reason is it's slow autofocussing speed versus the 70-200 lens. If forced to use the 85mm lens, I'd definitely shoot it at f/2.8 or so. With your f/1.4, try shooting it at f/2.0. Upon further inspection of your images, however, you may find what you believe are out of focus images due to shallow depth of field might be out of focus because the lens just doesn't auto focus fast enough for volleyball, which I find to be a very challenging sport to photograph. By the way, I normallly shoot in manual mode. I manually set both apertuer and shutter speed. And I use the Auto ISO function on my Nikon DLSRs set to a maximum ISO of 6400 to manage exposure. I'm sure your Nikon D600 has an Auto ISO setting as well. (link)

Minh Vuong , Nov 16, 2012; 11:42 a.m.

Great shots Randall. I get the feeling that I too will have to make the switch to 70-200/f2.8. Which model lens are you using with your Nikons?

Randall McAdory , Nov 16, 2012; 11:57 a.m.

I have Nikon's 70-200mm f/2.8 VR AF-S ED IF lens. The most important aspect of this lens for sports is obviously the max aperture of f/2.8, but also the AF-S component (fast auto-focussing). Many people believe VR is somehow useful for sports. It's not. And thus I generally turn off VR when shooting sports to lengthen battery life.

Rick M. , Nov 18, 2012; 01:14 p.m.

Randal is absolutely right about lenses. The 70-200 F2.8 is the hot ticket everyday. I leave the VR on but that is not important. Since you mention the Sigma 70-200 OS lens I will assume you have at least $1300.00 to spend on the lens. You might consider saving some money and going for Nikon's absolutely fantastic old standby 80-200 F2.8. It is stupid sharp, built like a tank and you can get a really nice used one for about 1/2 what you are looking to spend on the Sigma.

Your D600 will perform beautifully at 3200 ISO which should handle any lower light you will find in a High School Gym. You can even bump it up a stop and do very well. Look at Randall's excellent shots. You just don't need the F1.8 or F.14 and will be better off not shooting either of those lenses wide open anyway except for the rare shot where you are doing it to control DOF.

The controversial comment is to go with the Nikon lenses because of quality. I know that Sigma can make some good lenses but both the 70-200 F2.8vr and the 80-200 F2.8 have been proven to be very sharp. I don't know a pro who doesn't own one of them. Your D600's high resolution could allow you to experience some lens related issues. I use both of these lenses for portraits on both DX and FX cameras.

Minh Vuong , Nov 18, 2012; 11:44 p.m.

Rick - thank you for your very good advice.
Based on feedbacks from this and another forum, I went ahead and bought the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8G ED VRII AF-S lens. It cost a fortune but I hope in the long run it's worth it for all the pictures that I plan to take with it.
Had I known about the Nikon 80-200 f2.8 that you mentioned above, I definitely would have considered it. It certainly cost a lot less and sounds like a great lens.
Besides the 80-200 lens not being a AF-S lens (which I believe is important for the fast focus I need for indoor volleyball), do you know what are the other major differences between the 80-200mm and the 70-200mm VRII?
In fact, for my application, indoor/outdoor sports and portraits, should I seriously consider returning the 70-200 in favor of the 80-200??? Doing so will allow me to acquire other lenses, like a 85/f1.8 for portraits.

Craig Shearman , Nov 19, 2012; 02:22 p.m.

I have used the 80-200 2.8 for indoor sports and it didn't focus nearly fast enough. I gave up on it and now use the 70-200 VR II. I've even seen a difference in AF speed between the VR I and VRII versions. If you have ordered the 70-200, stick with it.
Personally, I consider the 70-200 an excellent portrait lens as well as a sports lens. They key difference with the 85 1.4 or 1.8 is increased bokeh, but you can still get great bokeh at 2.8 by going to the longer focal length options in the 70-200 or increasing the subject-to-background distance.

Minh Vuong , Nov 19, 2012; 02:36 p.m.

Craig, thanks for sharing your first hand experience with the 2 lenses. Definitely fast AF was one of my big concerns with volleyball. Sounds like the 70-200/VR2 is the better choice there.
Good tip on going to a longer focal length for better bokeh. I will have to give that technique a try.

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